Nancy has 20+ years of television, voice over, and theatre work.
Nancy, tell us a little about your background and how you started in Media.
I was actually just very lucky – in the right place at the right time. I had studied writing and theater in college, and had done a LOT of theater/acting by the time I went to a Public Television Station as a grants writer. All non-technical employees had to participate in the on-camera “begathons,” and for me, as an actress, that was pretty easy. And I’m lucky to be able to say that I photographed well. So between the two, when a producer’s job opened, and I applied for it, they were willing to give me a shot. It was a natural for me, as I loved writing term papers (which is I think is the best way I can explain a producer’s job), loved performing, and had spent years doing photography. It all came together in that job.
You were host and commentator on Point ‘n’ Click for several years. Tell us about the show and what it was like to be on it.
The show was a call-in where people could ask questions about computer and technology issues; we also did demos, editorial commentaries, and field pieces. The call-in was the central feature, though, and what distinguished it as a local show. People came to feel they “knew” our panel (Al Fasoldt, a technology guru and writer for the Syracuse Newspapers, and author of TechnoFiles website; and Chuck Swanson, a white hat hacker and computer instructor, among many other things. Both of them were/are brilliant, and I learned so much! We also had Gene Wolf on monthly to talk about Macs, and a fill-in host, Mike DeLucia, another local computer whiz. All in all, it was a treat for me because I learned so much. I was there to help translate user’s problems to the guys because sometimes they had trouble backing up mentally sufficiently to grasp what it was the user was asking. So I was sorta the “dumb blonde” of the group.
What is it like to work as a voice professional? Is it demanding work?
Not demanding at all – I love it. I wish that it’s all I ever had to do, to be honest. It’s acting and technology blended, and so again, for me, a dream come true. The biggest challenge is getting the jobs – technology has enabled just about anyone to hook a mic up to a computer, get the right audio software, and become a “voice professional.” So you sometimes have to wade through a lot of people to get to the attention of the right people; though usually once you do, if you give them a good product, they keep coming back. It’s fun to find the right voice for a script, interpret the lines, and make it sound as good as you possibly can.
You have quite a collection of professional voice equipment. Is all this equipment needed to start off with a paying assignment? Can one get started with no money, a computer, and a headset/microphone unit?
Well, the answer to that is the expected: yes and no! Yes, of course you can hook a headset mic up and you’ll get some jobs. But if you really want to do this professionally, you’re going to need a good mic, one of the better (and hence, more expensive) software packages, some sort of processor (that goes from the mic into the computer at a good level), a proper sound-baffled room (a whisper room, if you can afford it, or at least good sound-proofing), and maybe even a phone patch/ISDN for some of the higher-end jobs.
There had been a trend for a while to “buy” a presence on a site like Voice123, or Voice.com, and then audition your heart out – maybe 25-100 auditions a week just to get one job (that might pay $75) – and you kind of had to be sitting by your computer all day so you’d get your audition in within the first 20-25 as that’s all voice-seekers were usually willing to listen to.
Now there is a new trend for voice sites to pick a crop of voices, offer them at a decent rate (maybe $.15-.20/word), and take a cut of the fee. This puts the odds a lot more in your favor of getting a job.
Then, of course, there is always getting on a really high-end reel like Studio Center, or getting an agent. But the landscape has changed so much that even getting an agent is no guarantee any more.
Many in my profession (me among them) will tell newbies this: if you’re not an actor, don’t bother. Start with acting. No matter how good your “voice” is, or how many people have told you “you should do radio spots, you have a great voice,” I’ve done training with people who, no matter what we try, just aren’t cut out to be actors. So even though their tone is nice, their reads are terrible. One of the best voice actors I know of, Jim Dale (he read the Harry Potter books, and he’s in his 70s at least), has a kind of raspy voice, but he is one magnificent talent! In fact, I’d say if you’re considering being a voice talent, listen to the Harry Potter books, and realize that that is what you’re shooting for.
On one of your blogs, you write about working for a crazy manager when you were first starting out. What was the craziest thing you ever saw him/her do? What did you learn from it?
Hmmm… which one would that have been? Actually, I’ve had managers who would go through people’s drawers when they weren’t in their offices, who would change directions three times in a week – leaving everyone’s head spinning, who had temper tantrums. All sorts of things. But then, when I think back to my first managerial job, I realize now that I was too young (both in years and maturity) to be a manager. I was still too interested in my own progress. I think the word “manager” should be replaced with the word “leader, ” or even “mentor.” I think managers should hire the smartest, best people they can find for each job that needs to be done, set a clear direction, then get out of the way and let their people shine Coach them, encourage them, praise them, pull them back when they need pulling back, but all in all, keep their own egos out of it. That’s what I learned from my own experience being a manager – that my own ego was still too invested, so I couldn’t make it all about my employees.
I don’t see too many women doing tech shows except Kim Kamando. Did you have any struggles starting out in this field being a woman?
I really didn’t, lucky me! My college boyfriend suggested I take a programming course because he thought it would help me be “more logical.” I fell in love with computers, and in one way or another, stayed tuned in from that point on. I guest hosted one of the early Point ‘n’ Clicks, and was brought on as full-time host after that. I just think a lot of women aren’t – or don’t realize – that they’re interested!
Tell us about your blog, “The Emperor’s New Clothes.”
My friends will tell you I go off on rants periodically, about things that just seem so obvious to me but nobody wants to say it because it seems politically incorrect or maybe old school, or even something nobody has really said anything about yet but which seems to me to be an emerging trend. So I decided to write down some of those thoughts. I’m sure it wouldn’t be everyone’s cup of tea… but it spares my friends because now I can rant on a blog!
What’s your favorite smart phone?
That’s a tough one! Maybe Around Me? I don’t use it often, but when I need it, I need it! It helps you find what you need when you really, really need it – especially when you’re in a place you’re not familiar with.
Another blog you keep updated is one on book reviews. How do you determine which book to review? In your opinion, what make the difference between an average book and an outstanding book?
I am a crazy-avid reader. I have, typically, three or four books going at any given moment – and this has been true for as long as I can remember. Grade school on. I actually write a book review each month for Table Hopping, a little monthly news/advertising paper. I’ve been given pretty free rein to do whatever I want to do with that column, so I mainly concentrate on mixing it up a little: fiction one month, non-fiction the next, a political book, a history. Whatever catches my fancy. (By the way, though I’m a “real” book lover, I have a Kindle and I adore it, because I can carry ten books with me in one tiny form factor.)
A good book is one I can put down and pick up, but I don’t toss across the room. A great one is one I can’t put down. It’s also one that’s got an original voice, is well-researched when it needs to be, and has been edited! Too many books don’t even get edited any more – and I’m amazed at the grammar, continuity, and style errors you find.
What projects are you working on for the future?
I’m trying to ramp up my voice work; and I’ve been going back to my old love, video production. I’m working on several projects right now, including a set of testimonial type videos for a client who sells employment testing instruments; another for a woman who does what she calls “Forwards,” or corporate training sessions to help companies get past their internal problems; and I’m both acting in, and Assistant Directing a movie which is being shot by a local film-maker. It’s called (right now) Impossible Choice. Oh, and I’m working with a woman, Nancy Fasoldt, putting together what we hope will be a fun and informational event on canning. Yep, your grandma’s old canning jars and all. There’s lots of concern over the additives in foods, and the fact that a lot of the produce we buy in grocery stores has been treated so that it’s basically “dead.” So Nancy and I started talking about how there might be a generation of young moms who would want to learn this old skill. I hope you’ll see news about it in the months to come!
Nancy, thank you for taking the time to participate on our site.
You can learn more about Nancy Roberts at http://www.linkedin.com/in/nancycroberts